Everyone has right to share opinions

Published 12:14 am Sunday, January 23, 2011

An opinion piece we published last week sparked the ire of at least one reader, a nice lady who called upset over the author’s words and beliefs and the audacity of the newspaper to publish them.

Perhaps matters of politics, race and religion will always be dangerous topics.

We’ve all been warned away from bringing up the hot-button topics at parties or in public — unless you know the people with whom you’re conversing really well.

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The Top of the Morning piece by Natchez resident Plez West contained all three topics — politics, race and religion.

Which is why I found myself talking to the nice reader Friday who was agitated by what she read — and that we dared allow it in print.

The woman was a long-time subscriber, and I am truly apologetic that the piece bothered her so much.

Like the caller, I didn’t agree with some of the statements West made in his opinion piece. Just like I’m sure hundreds — if not thousands — of you may disagree with lots of things you’ve read on this page in the past.

Our opinion page is supposed to be a place for a healthy exchange of ideas and topics, a place where one person’s opinion is just as important as another’s.

Through the years, we’ve published many things that were controversial and occasionally even disturbing to the majority of our readers.

Each day that the page is put together and edited, we go through a series of judgment calls. While most of the content that is submitted is far from controversial, some is and we try every effort to avoid printing something that we know to be outright false.

But when you start delving in interpreting the “truth” in another person’s opinion, things can get tricky.

Just because we may not agree with someone’s spin or interpretation on issues, doesn’t mean their opinion should be censored.

In fact, it’s those very opinions that should be offered up, read and discussed. If we don’t understand how others in our community feel, how will we ever find common ground to work out our problems?

In the last year, I’ve had a similar type of discussion with an online reader regarding reader comments on our website. The reader was appalled at how negative and biting online commenters can be.

As he pointed out, when people “discuss things” on social networking sites such as Facebook, the tone is much more civil. The difference, the reader suggested, is that on Facebook people know one another’s identity.

While that’s true, the civility there vs. a wide open conversation on the web has more to do with the fact that the various commenters know one another and share common interests and connections than with the lack of anonymity.

It’s the very differences — age, sex, economic background, race, etc. — that make conversations and debates more interesting. If we all shared exactly the same beliefs, imagine how boring of a world in which we’d live.

For readers who are offended by things on our opinion page, please share your thoughts with me. I’m eager to hear them.

However, realize that we try to walk a fine line between having an opinion page that only has one side of an issue and one that doesn’t constantly allow people to bash one another.

Anytime a minority opinion is expressed, particularly if it’s filled with animosity, the situation can quickly boil over. For those instances, I apologize to those who are offended. And, of course, any reader is always encouraged to express their opinions in rebuttal to an opinion piece.

Kevin Cooper is publisher of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3539 or kevin.cooper@natchezdemocrat.com.